Tuesday 26 June 2007

I was in London's West End recently, being reminded of what a dearth of shops there are for jazz guitarists. In Denmark Street you see the odd new archtop or American classic at vastly inflated prices. As a 14 year-old, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road and Denmark Street was a mecca - I would spend hours browsing, having spent hours of prep pouring over the back pages of Melody Maker. I bought my first quality classical acoustic in Ivor Mairant's in Rathbone Place. Now, Ivor Mairant's seems to employ staff who really don't care for anything that has to be amplified, and whose customer service is less than satisfactory ("I need to take this (personal mobile) call", I was told mid-conversation).

Which is just as well we have Gillan's guitars, run by Dave Gillan and partner Kim from Perthshire in Scotland. Dave and Kim are jazz guitar enthusiasts, specialising in quality hand-built archtops, mostly from the US (Campellone, Briggs, Comins, Gagnon and more). I first came across the shop when looking for a UK Sadowsky dealer, as I wanted to order the limited-edition Jim Hall model. I waited about a year and then took delivery of this beautiful guitar (pictured left).

I had the chance to meet Dave and Kim at this year's guitar show at London's Excel. I'm not sure they'll be going again. it was impossible to enjoy the guitars and amps with the barrage of sound that came from the on-stand demos. It was like WWIII. They had brought down a Henriksen Jazzamp, a beautiful little amp that seems to have taken the (admittedly small) world of jazz guitar by storm, being used by the likes of Jim Hall, Jimmy Bruno, Joe Diorio and Ronny Jordan.

I now have a guitar and amp combination I am really happy with - high quality, lightweight, responsive, warm. I only wish I can find a good excuse to get up to Scotland to visit Dave and Kim and try out some more of their stock - for market research purposes, of course.

Monday 25 June 2007

Terry Seabrook Quartet, The Brunswick, Brighton

Terry is a Brighton based pianist, teacher, composer and tireless campaigner for live jazz. This was a rare opportunity to capture Terry's band playing original compositions as they only play together about once a year. The band is Andy Williams (guitar), Dave Trigwell (drums) and Paul Whitten (double bass). The kicked off with Oleo as a lively warm up and then followed up with some original compositions.

Andy Williams' playing was excellent. He has a warm, dark tone, similar to Pat Metheny and his playing is thoughtful, exciting and free from obvious cliches. Although his playing does not have the excesses of some fusion players, you can detect a fusion influence. He has a technique that covers all the bases - in more intense moments there was some wonderful sweep picking, he played some nice chordal variations on the standard What's New and the band closed the first set with a spiky, bebop-inspired blues that showed he can combine his contemporary approach with some hard swinging.

Terry's compositions can best be described as "evocative". Stylistically, they remind me of the Pat Metheny Group in the 80s (e.g. Letter From Home) and there is clearly a strong influence from PMG keyboard player Lyle Mays. One of the pieces evoked starlings over the West Pier. They all had an element of non-functional harmony as a base for some fine modal blowing.

Dave Trigwell has a very relaxed swing and sounds constantly inventive, never content to just repeat a pattern. He worked well with Paul who is a subtle bass player - never loud but always present.

Let's hope this band gets to play together more often.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Three things I have learned from Gabor Szabo

Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó (b.1936 d.1982) left Budapest to study jazz at Berklee College (1958-60). His break came in the States when he plyaed with Chico Hamilton's influential band, following in the footsteps of guitarist such as Jim Hall. I first head this band on the soundtrack of Roman Polanski's obsession, a study in schizophrenia starring a young Catherine Deneuve. It took me a few years to find out that Gábor was the guitarist and quite a few more years to track down some Gábor recordings.

Doug Payne has a great site dedicated to Gábor who is an underrated but influential guitarist - GÁBOR SZABÓ ICONOCLASM. His sound is pigeon-holed as Sixties Jazz and Pop exotica. His biggest acolyte was Carlos Santana who, if it hadn't been from Gábor, may have remained a run-of-the-mill blues/rock guitarist.

Here's Gabor and band performing Breezin', the original version of the massive hit for George Benson.

And the three things I have learned from Gabor:

1. The drone
Like many of his jazz and pop contemporaries, Gábor was heavily influenced by Indian music. In his playing he used a drone (an open string picked whilst playing a melody on another string). Just as the single-note the bass pedal gives John Coltrane's a soulful undercurrent on tunes like My Favorite Things, Gábor's use of the drone sometimes suggests a meditative "Om". I think Gábor probably used a variety of tunings on his guitar because it always surprises me the way he manages to consistently slip in these trade-mark drones - on very melodic tunes as well as modal vamps. Playing in keys like Bb and F are not much good for drones, but I use them whenever I play in E, A, D etc.

2. Feedback
Gábor used control feedback to play melodies. There's a great example of this on his version of Theme from the Valley of the Dolls. I often end tunes with feedback and then fade. Rarely find the opportunity to play whole melodies though.

3. The hypnotic groove
Albums with titles like The Sourcerer and Spellbinder, suggest this quality in Gábor's playing. Breezin' is a great example of this hypnotic groove. Gábor's eyes are closed, he's swaying about and he's gone to another place. I remember a guy saying about 3+1, "I love your music. It sends me somewhere else. I don't know where it is, but I like it!"

Friday 2 March 2007

Five Years At Fitz

Plenty of familiar faces down Fitz last night for a celebration of Three Plus One's five years at the venue. Five years must make it one of the longest running in Brighton (Steve Thompson at The Sussex Yeoman made it to four and a half). The evening started with a set by ERM (Ela Southgate and Rachel Day on vocals, Matt Wall on 7-string guitar). Lovely harmony vocals and some nice original tunes managed to calm the typically rowdy early evening crowd. We played a set of the usual and then guitarist Piers Clark joined Keith Baxter (bass), Matt and me for some Parisienne-style swing. Piers has a wonderful sense of time - even if he won't play a lick later than 1939! Master chef Freddie (of Terre a Terre) made a delicious strawberry birthday gateaux, with a piece for everyone in the pub and the band played on for another set. I never forget it's a privilege to have a regular weekly gig, and just hope that Fitzherberts manages to survive the creeping gentrification of the area.

My Name is Albert Ayler

There are a few memorable films about jazz musicians include Round Midnight, Jazz On a Summer's Day and this, My Name is Albert Ayler. At the ICA a few weeks' ago, Swedish director Kasper Collin introduced his seven year labour of love. The film started as a brief chronicle of Albert's time in Sweden but expanded into a full-scale biog. Albert's remarkable story as visionary musician on a world-changing crusade is told by Albert himself through an audio track taken from radio interviews, alongside interviews with family, friends and musicians. He talks about growing up in Cleveland, his army days and his decision to move to Sweden in pursuit of musical freedom in the early Sixties. His time in Sweden coincided with the opening in Copenhagen of The Golden Circle, the club that blazed a trail for free jazz and was the scene of famous live recordings by the likes of Ornette Coleman. Despite his unorthodox and sometimes challenging musical style (he would try and compress all the notes on the sax into a single shriek), Albert was an attractive figure - handsome, softly spoken, a fondness for leather suits. Back in the States Albert made an impression on the likes of John Coltrane, similarly pursuing musical freedom, but he lived in dire poverty, unable to get decent gigs, though able to undertake prestigious European concert tours with a band that included his brother Don on trumpet.

The film is beautifully made with an unforced, organic form. It reveals the arc of his short life (found in the East River at the age of 34, probably suicide) through a a number of interweaving strands (like musical counterpoint) - his troubled family life, his artistic life, his personal relationships. As well as his own voice, we have the voice of his father, brother, ex girlfriends, wife, fellow musicians. The film is roughly cut (reflecting Albert's music) but has a powerful emotional affect. The tragedy of such a short, and probably tortured, life, the sadness of brother Don's mental health, but also the uplifting Christian faith of his spritely ninety-year-old father, and the humour and humanity of drummer and musical partner Sunny Murray, who seems to put the whole thing in perspective.

One powerful and memorable device the director uses is putting a film on someone listening to Albert's music on headphones - the elderly Swede who played drums on his first album, Sunny Murray, Steve Swallow listening to sessions on which they played. You see the emotion ripple across their faces, while we also hear the same music. It adds an extra dimension to the sound and makes you want to feel that power and intensity yourself.

An interesting article on Albert Ayler in Europe: 1959-62

Monday 5 February 2007

Remembering Emily Remler

Around 1986 I was living in Istanbul Turkey. A local jazz programme played the whole of Catwalk, an album of original tunes by guitarist Emily Remler. I recorded the show and played it back over and over again. The compositions were inventive, had a direct line back to the jazz tradition, had a relaxed swing, sensitivity and strong sense of purpose. Back in the UK, I was surprised that people were dismissive (e.g. “a Wes copyist”, "mainstream") because, to me, her sound and approach seemed modern and personal. When I hear Emily playing standards, I can sometimes see what people mean. However, she deserves credit for bringing her own unique qualities to the jazz guitar. When she duets with rock-influenced Larry Coryell, I know who I prefer.

Emily has a troubled personal life and sadly died at the age of 32 while on tour in Australia. Now there is a comprehensive website remembering Emily Remler: All Things Emily

Sunday 4 February 2007

Live at Joogleberry Playhouse

Played a great gig with Three Plus One at Joogleberry's in Brighton last week, 26 Jan, with guest drummer Peter Greatorex. Boga Lou is a tribute to the great alto player Lou Donaldson and owes something to Lou's Sixties hit, Alligator Bogaloo. Lou's hit was recorded with George Benson on guitar and Lonnie Smith on Hammond.
If you don't know Alligator Bogaloo, check out this rather unusual video from YouTube:

A few years ago I caught Lou at the Jazz Cafe in London. He was still playing with the wonderful "Dr" Lonnie Smith (sporting robes and a turban) and a guitarist I rate highly - Randy Johnston. Lou played bebop, blues and boogaloo and was a charming MC. The audience danced all night and you could tell he loved it!